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The Coronavirus Is Transforming Politics and Economics

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Just like in wartime, people are frightened, public attitudes are changing, and the circumstances necessitate an expanded role for the government, including the Department of the Treasury.Photographer by Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty

In early March, when health experts warned that the United States risked running short of vital medical supplies, such as masks and ventilators, Donald Trump resisted calls to invoke the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that gives the President broad powers to prioritize the production of certain items when they become important for national security. As recently as last week, he said, “We don’t need it.” Finally, on Thursday, Trump dropped the pretense and invoked the act to order the suppliers of ventilator manufacturers to give them the components they need to speed up production.

Every day, in ways small and large, the spread of the coronavirus is reshaping American politics. As the death toll rises and the economic fallout spreads, measures once considered unthinkable are being adopted, and not just in the public-health sphere. The $2.2 trillion emergency spending bill that Congress passed last week is worth about ten per cent of G.D.P., and in the coming months we are likely to see another stimulus. This dramatic ramp-up in federal spending is comparable to what happened in 1942, the year after Pearl Harbor, when federal spending as a share of G.D.P. rose by more than ten percentage points.

Trump is no F.D.R., of course, and the virus, unlike the Axis Powers, is an invisible enemy. But the record shows that lethal pandemics and major wars can both have enormous political and economic consequences. In his 2017 opus “The Great Leveler,” Walter Scheidel, a Stanford historian, described them as two of the “four horsemen” that have flattened economic inequality throughout human history. (The other two levelling forces that Scheidel identified were revolutions and state failures.) By decimating the population of medieval Europe, the Black Death made labor scarce, which raised wages and undermined the feudal system. The Civil War abolished slavery and gave rise to the Homestead Act of 1862. The First World War changed the role of women in the economy and paved the way for their political emancipation. The Second World War elevated the role of labor unions and led to the explicit adoption of Keynesian full-employment policies, through the 1946 Employment Act. In Europe, it facilitated the creation of a postwar welfare state, including the National Health Service in Britain.

These violent ruptures lasted years. We can hope that this horrible public-health crisis will also be temporary. And yet, the “wartime” metaphor is in many ways apt. Daily life has been transformed; in just two weeks, almost ten million Americans have filed unemployment claims; and earlier this week a White House task force said the death toll could eventually reach two hundred and forty thousand. Just like in wartime, people are frightened, public attitudes are changing, and the circumstances are necessitating a big expansion of the government’s role.

As of today, tens of millions of small and medium-sized firms will be able to take out bank loans to cover all of their running costs, including wages and rent, for the next eight weeks. If they keep their workers on the books, or rehire the ones they have laid off in the past couple of weeks, the Treasury Department will automatically repay the loans in their entirety. (I wrote about the scheme earlier this week.) The involvement of banks disguises the fact that this is essentially a huge, federal grant program, in which Uncle Sam will be paying the wages of tens of millions of Americans who are nominally private-sector employees. For a conservative Republican Administration, this is a strikingly interventionist move. But it doesn’t cover large corporations, and there are doubts about how quickly and widely the loans will be taken up. (The initial reports aren’t encouraging.) If the jobless count keeps rising, pressure will grow for the Administration to go further and copy the emergency job-protection programs that many European countries have adopted, which encompass businesses of all sizes and involve the government paying them directly.

In other policy areas, too, the Overton window—the range of political options considered acceptable—is expanding. The rapid passage of such a big stimulus, with more to come probably, has punctured the idea, assiduously promoted by deficit hawks, that we “can’t afford” more government programs. Despite all the additional spending, the U.S. Treasury is still able to borrow on remarkably favorable terms: on Thursday, the yield on ten-year Treasury bonds was just 0.63 per cent. And as a backstop, there is the Federal Reserve, with its electronic printing press at the ready.

You don’t have to be a convert to Modern Monetary Theory to have noted the alacrity with which the Fed, over the past month, has purchased and placed on its balance sheet about $1.5 trillion worth of Treasury bonds, commercial paper and bonds issued by large corporations, mortgage-backed securities, auto loans, and credit-card loans. In the coming days, it may well start lending directly to big corporations. As the Fed constructs a comprehensive safety net for Wall Street and corporate America, how can anyone argue against an equally comprehensive approach to safeguarding the welfare of medical workers, delivery-truck drivers, grocery-store employees, and other ordinary Americans on the front line of the battle to contain COVID-19?

The public at large may not grasp some of the financial intricacies, but it surely sees the urgent need for universal health care. According to a poll published by Morning Consult earlier this week, net support for Medicare for All—those who support it minus those who oppose it—has risen by nine points. The virus isn’t just raising support for socialized medicine; it is also undermining the finances of the private-insurance model. Caring for COVID-19 patients can be very costly. If the insurers have to recoup these costs next year, they could raise their 2021 premiums by more than forty per cent, according to an analysis by Covered California, the Golden State’s official health-insurance marketplace. Though Elizabeth Warren is out of the Democratic primary and it would be a huge surprise for Bernie Sanders to secure the Party’s nomination, they could well end up winning the debate over health-care policy.

In another important development, the mass layoffs that have resulted from the virus have also laid bare the iniquities of the gig economy, in which Uber drivers and other online-platform workers, temp-agency workers, and a whole variety of freelancers didn’t have access to health insurance, sick leave, or unemployment insurance. During an appearance on CNBC on Thursday, the investor James Chanos said he was selling short the stocks of gig-economy companies because their business model, which is based on classifying workers as self-employed to avoid giving them costly benefits, is likely to be challenged. “I think both political parties are going to be looking at that pretty hard,” Chanos said.

Much depends on the duration of the pandemic, of course. If the associated shutdowns prove to be reasonably short-lived—two or three months—the economy and the markets could rebound fairly rapidly. Congress and the Fed could wind down their emergency programs, and public attitudes could flip back. But the longer the pandemic goes on, and the deadlier it becomes, the greater the pressure will be for more government activism of various forms.

It would be reassuring to think that this pressure will always lead to necessary actions and progressive policies, but that might be kidding ourselves. A new study of the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic on the U.S. and European countries shows that it led to a decline in social trust. The spread of the virus, the confinement measures taken to counter it, and “rumours about enemy spies spreading the infection beyond the lines as a kind of biological weapon created a climate of suspicion and mistrust,” the authors noted.

With some people already calling for residents of COVID-19 hotspots to be confined to their own areas, and Trump referring to “the China virus,” we are already seeing some echoes of this phenomenon. As the pandemic intensifies, it could lead to rising xenophobia, a further accentuation of regional divides, and even demands for authoritarian remedies, which Trump, having settled into the idea of himself as a wartime leader, might be all too eager to exploit.

That is worst-case speculation. But COVID-19 is shifting the tectonic plates that undergird American politics, and, as with the progress of the virus itself, the range of possible outcomes is wide. It is in such circumstances that history is made, for good or ill.

Source:- The New Yorker

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End 'Wild West' for political ads, campaigners say – BBC News

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A surge in online political advertising spending during last year’s general election shows the need for greater transparency, campaigners say.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) estimated the three main UK-wide parties spent more than twice as much on online adverts as on 2017’s poll.

A lack of regulation was creating a “Wild West” in need of stronger oversight, it added.

The government called its efforts to reform advertising “world-leading”.

Last month, minsters published plans for a “digital imprint” on social media ads, promising “the same transparency” for voters as for election leaflets and posters.

The ERS welcomed these, but said they were “unlikely to be sufficient”.

In a report, the campaign group said providing more information to voters about political adverts online represented an “urgent challenge for democracy”.

It argued claims over their accuracy were becoming “increasingly prominent” online, where it was easier for pop-up campaigners, as well as established political parties, to influence debate.

The ERS added there had been “several high-profile examples of dishonest or misleading claims” across the political spectrum during the 2019 campaign.

It pointed out existing accuracy rules on commercial adverts did not extend to political campaigning, while donations laws provided only a “minimal” snapshot of how much parties spent online.

What did the report find?

  • The study, compiled by academics Katharine Dommett and Sam Power, estimated party spending using the transparency archives of social media firms
  • It found the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems combined spent around £6m campaigning on Facebook and just under £3m on Google
  • The analysis suggested the Conservatives spent comparatively more on Google, backing claims it sought to reach voters through YouTube
  • The researchers said 64 non-party groups had registered as official political campaigners for the election, with 46 registering after the poll was announced
  • They calculated a total of 88 non-party campaign groups placed 13,197 adverts on Facebook, at a combined cost of £2.7m

The report made recommendations requiring political campaigners to provide more detailed spending invoices more quickly after elections to the Electoral Commission, the UK’s elections watchdog.

It also urged parties to work with regulators and the advertising industry to develop a code of practice for political adverts.

The Electoral Commission says it does not have the power or resources to monitor the truthfulness of political advertising.

But it has previously echoed calls for greater transparency, adding in its review of the 2019 election that rules needed to be updated.

Constitution Minister Chloe Smith said: “People want to engage with politics online. That’s where campaigners connect with voters, so naturally political parties across the board are increasing their digital campaigning activity.

“This government is already making political campaigning more transparent for voters, with new, world-leading measures that will require campaign content promoted online to explicitly show who is behind it.”

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Democrats also play politics with Supreme Court seats – CNN

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Charlie Dent
Like her dear friend Justice Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg died in the final year of a president’s term, and this vacancy will ignite yet another epic Supreme Court battle . During the prolonged debate and discussion over the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, I believed that then-President Barack Obama had the right to make the nomination in a presidential election year and that the Senate should have initiated the confirmation process.
Similarly, under the Constitution, President Donald Trump is well within his rights to make a nomination, and the Senate GOP is within theirs to move forward with the confirmation process now. However, Republicans are justifiably being criticized for hypocrisy. In many instances you can simply use the words of Republican Senators from four years ago against them now. Yes, this is a power play and it is all very cynical.
Nevertheless, if the shoe were on the other foot, with Democrats controlling both the Presidency and Senate under the same circumstances, they most assuredly would attempt fill a Supreme Court vacancy without hesitation and in record time. No one should be surprised the GOP will do everything within their power to fill this vacancy before the end of the year.
Democrats are predictably making hyperbolic and exaggerated statements about the impact of this Supreme Court fight, from overturning Roe v. Wade to stripping Americans of certain civil rights. We’ve heard all of this with past GOP Supreme Court nominations; it’s part of the Democratic playbook.
Obviously much of this rhetoric is aimed to motivate the Democratic base in the hopes of making electoral change. In this battle, the Democrats most persuasive attack will be on health care and the plight of people with pre-existing conditions should the Affordable Care Act be struck down, which was nearly overturned by the Supreme Court a few years ago with Justice Ginsburg as part of a majority in opposition.
To be clear, the tactic of weaponizing the politics of the Supreme Court is not new nor is it reserved to only one party. Republicans have for decades employed a fairly comprehensive strategy for building and maintaining the current conservative balance of the Court. One needs no further evidence then their reliance on outside groups like The Federalist Society to vet ideologically appropriate potential nominees.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have employed the politics of the personal destruction to tear down Republican nominees — starting with the rejection of Judge Robert Bork in 1987, to hardball tactics used against Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, respectively. The left attacked Bork mercilessly and declared him too extreme to be confirmed; they even turned Bork’s name into a verb. His nomination was defeated in the Democrat controlled Senate 58-42. President Reagan then nominated Anthony Kennedy who was confirmed unanimously.
It should be noted many Democrats and their allies said at the time that Kennedy would overturn Roe v. Wade. The same was said about virtually every other Republican Presidential Supreme Court nominee including swing votes Sandra Day O’Connor and John Roberts, as well as the liberal David Souter.
No, Republicans most assuredly do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy and cynicism. Nor have Democrats shied away from a bare knuckle, back alley fight when it comes to past Supreme Court nominations.
Although within their right to move forward, Senate Republicans would be wise to let the voice of the American people be heard in this confirmation process. Hastily moving forward under an artificial political deadline, in this case the election, may severely damage the credibility of the nomination process.
Politically, President Trump may benefit from this Supreme Court fight. Rather than discussing Trump’s botched Covid-19 response, absurd comments or his glaring unfitness to hold office, the narrative is about something both the GOP base and soft Trump voters care deeply and passionately — in 2016 exit polls, 56% of Trump voters said appointments were “the most important factor” in their vote.
Notwithstanding his inconsistent and contradictory statements on considering Supreme Court nominees in a presidential election year,
Sen. Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and who is locked in a tight reelection fight, likely benefits from this fight, too, in deep red South Carolina. Of course, Democrats will be further angered and energized by this fight as well to the detriment of swing state Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and perhaps a few others in competitive elections.
Meanwhile, Democrats would be wise not to overreact with hyperbole and personal accusations, or extreme proposals like court packing, DC statehood, and impeachment. Instead, they should focus on putting pressure on Republican Senators and working to defeat President Trump at the ballot box.
Unless Democrats can find four GOP Senators to oppose Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, they will lose this battle. If they’re smart, they will use this potential defeat to mobilize their base and turn out their voters for the upcoming and future elections. In fact, Democratic prospects of winning the White House remain very favorable, and flipping several seats in the Senate is well within their reach.
Republicans appear poised to pick up another Supreme Court seat, but the fight is just beginning. If the vote on the nominee occurs before the election, what will the impact be on the presidential race, and swing state Republican senators? If a confirmation vote were to occur in the lame duck session, and Democrats were to turn the tables in the election by winning the Presidency and the Senate, will defeated Republican Senators vote to confirm the nominee under those circumstances? We’ll know soon enough.

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Don Martin: The prime minister talks turkey in a political address to the nation – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
What. Was. THAT??

A prime minister calling for time across Canadian airwaves is a BIG DEAL and thus very rarely done.

It’s not allowed to be political posturing. It’s supposed to be a five-alarm siren on a matter of national significance from a prime minister who believes urgent information must be fed directly into Canadian ears.

So what does Justin Trudeau do when his demand for 15 minutes of unedited access to the airwaves was granted under the assumption it NOT be political?

In that weird breathlessness he saves for his most dramatic conversations, Trudeau warned Canadians their Thanksgiving turkey is likely cooked by the coronavirus and they might as well cancel the family feast now. Then he dangled the faint hope of Christmas salvation IF we wear masks, download the government COVID-19 tracking app and get a flu shot.

That glum scenario hardly qualifies as news-bulletin material being released by a leader with unique insights to share. It barely rates as a news story, being the parroting of what public health officials have already said about the second wave being upon many of us.

And then Trudeau dived into an overtly-partisan listing of government actions already taken and those to come, provided the throne speech gets passed by Parliament.

It was political grandstanding masked as a public service message, a transparent and shallow attempt to paste Trudeau’s face over the throne speech highlight reel instead of leaving all the television clips to a disinterested reading by scandal-tainted Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Not to be outdone with this flexing of prime ministerial power, Trudeau’s opposition rivals jumped on the free political advertising bandwagon with highly partisan televised reactions of their own.

Clearly the last week or two have given Canadians an ominous preview of COVID cases building into a tsunami-sized wave on case projection charts.

It’s an emerging emergency which could’ve justified a national address, provided Trudeau’s 6,000-word action plan had not been read to rapture-level media coverage just four hours earlier.

All he did in the prime-time address was echo the throne speech’s pandemic as priority one and repeat the ways his government will help millions of Canadians through the approaching winter of self-isolation discontent.

To be fair, the government did launch a flotilla of lifeboats aimed at keeping COVID-displaced Canadian workers, ravaged retailers, vulnerable seniors, disadvantaged women and daycare-dependent families afloat in the second wave. (The resulting deficits which will confront post-pandemic taxpayers are going to be truly staggering).

But to flesh it out with a hodgepodge of less-urgent, undelivered or oft-repeated priorities dilutes an agenda which should be almost solely fixated on the medical and economic trauma this country is facing.

For example, it’s a safe bet Canada will be two billion trees shy of the two billion trees this government again promised to plant in the Wednesday speech by the time we head to the polls. That and most of the other non-pandemic initiatives will be quickly moved to the back-burner.

But, getting back to the address, for Trudeau to graft his message onto the throne speech was blatant duplication for purely political purposes.

Trudeau and the other party leaders will get their opportunity for an official Hansard-recorded reaction to the throne speech in the House of Commons on Thursday.

What more Trudeau can say after his urgent national address the day before is hard to imagine, unless he’s about to scare off Hallowe’en as well.

Here’s hoping the next time Trudeau demands access to the nation’s airwaves, the networks will say his turkey was cooked in 2020 when he deemed a threat to Thanksgiving worthy of a national broadcast alert.

Then they should tell Trudeau they’ll wait and air his Christmas greeting instead.

That’s the bottom line.

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